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The Coaching Corner with Michael Riegel: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

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Lather, Rinse, Repeat

That is an easy set of directions to follow. On the flip side, have you tried to put a piece of furniture together recently? My wife and I recently bought a new house. That meant new furniture that had to be assembled. All pictures and no words. I suppose we can thank (or curse) Ikea for this approach. As you can probably guess, there was quite a bit of rotating the directions to understand the hardware to use and the placement.

A colleague told me about an engineering course he took that required each student to write a set of instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The professor acted them out with one spectacular failure after another. In construction, we recognize the need for proper sequencing of tasks and activities. I would guess that we can still find room for improvement in giving directions. It may be one of the chief reasons for a lack of delegation. Managers fall into the trap of “it will take me longer to explain it than to just do it myself.”

If you can’t explain it, then the tasks are probably too big. If you are delegating a task or being delegated to and there is hesitation or lack of understanding, try breaking it down into the component parts. Make sure the “why” is given as much weight as the “what.” If the task is “Write the Monthly Report” and the person does not understand how the information will be used or the audience, the likelihood of success will be limited.

There are many solutions to solve a challenge. We hire staff because they have demonstrated success in completing tasks or solving problems. Provide space for staff to get to the result in a way that they have some input. This will boost engagement and ownership. For those tasks that must follow a specific sequence or format, explain why that is the case. You might be surprised by your team’s creativity.

It takes time and repetition to develop mastery. Your team members may need directions more than once before they can work independently and capably. As a manager, it can be frustrating to repeat directions. After you give directions a second time, have your team member repeat them back. If they can do that to your satisfaction, you are all on a path to success.

As you sit down to give directions, make sure you are clear and conscious of the person on the receiving end. As with all communications, it is not about how you intend the message to land but how the message is received. If I never have to assemble another piece of furniture from a cartoon I could be very happy. You can reach me at

Michael Riegel


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